Whither Rendition? Ex-CIA Officer Predicts Obama Will Adopt Rendition

By Dennis Loo

On December 13, 2008 the New York Times published the following OpEd by Reuel Marc Gerecht, ex-CIA officer and a member of Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD is a neocon think tank that includes Steve Forbes, Bill Kristol, Jack Kemp, Louis J. Freeh, Joseph Lieberman, Newt Gingrich, Max Kampelman, Robert Macfarlane, and James Woolsey. FDD's Board of Advisors are Gary Bauer, Rep. Eric Cantor, Frank Gaffney, Gene Gately, Charles Jacobs, General P.X. Kelley, Charles Krauthammer, Hon. Richard D. Lamm, Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland, Sen. Zell Miller, Richard Perle, Steven Pomerantz, Oliver "Buck" Revell, Hon. Francis J. "Bing" West (This list courtesy of Wikipedia).
In his OpEd Gerecht postulates a "ticking time bomb" scenario:
"[I]f we’d gotten our hands on a senior member of Al Qaeda before 9/11, and knew that an attack likely to kill thousands of Americans was imminent, wouldn’t waterboarding, or taking advantage of the skills of our Jordanian friends, have been the sensible, moral thing to do with a holy warrior who didn’t fear death but might have feared pain?"
Interestingly, the US government did have information about a pending attack on the US, with the World Trade Center Twin Towers specifically mentioned by more than one source. What did the Bush White House do about this?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Not only did they have information, they had a great deal of information, from diverse and multiple sources, all without engaging in rendition and without employing torture. Imagine that: you can actually get useful information without drowning people, beating them to a pulp, suffocating them or sending electricity through their genitals? Fancy that.


In my book, Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, you will find this abbreviated list, in Chapter 14 by Peter Phillips, Bridget Thornton, Lew Brown and Andrew Sloan, of what the White House knew before 9/11:
"A significant portion of the GDG [Global Dominance Group] had every opportunity to know in advance that the 9/11 attacks were imminent. Afghanistan, Argentina, Britain, the Cayman Islands, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Russia, and from within the U.S. the intelligence community all warned the U.S. of imminent terrorist attacks. Some of the 9/11 prewarnings include:
"1996–2001: Federal authorities knew that suspected terrorists with ties to bin Laden received flight training at schools in the U.S. and abroad. An Oklahoma City FBI agent sent a memo warning that 'large numbers of Middle Eastern males' were getting flight training and could have been planning terrorist attacks. (CBS, May 30, 2002.) One convicted terrorist confessed that his planned role in a terror attack was to crash a plane into CIA headquarters. (Washington Post, September 23, 2001.)
"JUNE of 2001: German intelligence warned the CIA, Britain’s intelligence agency, and Israel’s Mossad that Middle Eastern terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft and use them as weapons to attack 'American and Israeli symbols which stand out.' (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 11, 2001; Washington Post, September 14, 2001; Fox News, May 17, 2002.)
"JUNE 28, 2001: George Tenet wrote an intelligence summary to Condoleezza Rice stating, 'It is highly likely that a significant al-Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.' (Washington Post, February 17, 2002.)
"JUNE–JULY 2001: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and national security aides were given briefs with headlines such as 'Bin Laden Threats Are Real' and 'Bin Laden Planning High Profile Attacks.' The exact contents of these briefings remain classified, but according to the 9/11 Commission, they consistently predicted upcoming attacks that would occur 'on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil, consisting of possible multiple—but not necessarily simultaneous—attacks.' (9/11 Commission Report, April 13, 2004.)
"JULY 26, 2001: Attorney General Ashcroft stopped flying commercial airlines because of a threat assessment. (CBS, July 26, 2001.) The report of this warning was omitted from the 9/11 Commission Report. (Griffin, May 22, 2005.)
"AUGUST 6, 2001: President Bush received a classified intelligence briefing at his Crawford, Texas ranch, warning that bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners; this briefing was entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States.' The entire memo focused on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the U.S. and specifically mentioned the World Trade Center. (Newsweek, May 27, 2002; New York Times, May 15, 2002; Washington Post, April 11, 2004; White House, April 11, 2004; Intelligence Briefing, August 6, 2001.)
AUGUST, 2001: Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. that suicide pilots were training for attacks on U.S. targets. (Fox News, May 17, 2002.) The head of Russian intelligence also later stated, 'We had clearly warned them' on several occasions, but they 'did not pay the necessary attention.' (Agence France-Presse, September 16, 2001.)
SEPTEMBER 10, 2001: a group of top Pentagon officials received an urgent warning that prompted them to cancel their flight plans for the following morning. (Newsweek, September 17, 2001.) The 9/11 Commission Report omitted this report. (Griffin, May 22, 2005.)"
So why did they not do anything to forestall or minimize the damage from this imminent threat?
They did nothing because obtaining intelligence is not the nub of the question. Torturing people and rendering them to other countries so that the US can deny that it tortured them are not designed to extract useful intelligence. Torture-extracted information is information given under pain of death by victims who want the pain to stop and will tell the torturer what they think the torturer wants to hear. Abu Zubaydah, one of the three detainees that NSA Chief Michael Hayden has admitted were waterboarded, was and is mentally ill and sent US interrogators chasing after ghosts from his “confessions” under torture.
The "ticking time bomb" scenario allegedly necessitating the use of torture is a false premise for multiple reasons. I won’t go into all of them here. Let the following suffice for now. Any scoundrel could cite an alleged "ticking time bomb" as a justification at any time. Is this the kind of world that we want to live in where anyone has license, as long as he or she cites the suspicion that there's a bomb about to go off, to torture someone? This is why international law makes crystal clear that torture is at all times and under all circumstances unjust, immoral, illegal and barbaric.
Those who want to claim, as does Gerecht, that "we're the good guys" and "they're the bad guys" and "when we torture people we do it morally" are either trying to fool others or are engaging in self-deception as well as duplicity. By this standard, anyone and everyone can claim that they’re the “good guys.” It’s all subjective.
The “ticking time bomb” scenario rests upon a specific kind of immoral arithmetic: other people’s lives aren’t as important as our lives. Or to be more specific, American lives are more valuable than non-Americans’ lives. A particularly telling example of this comes from Michael Ignatieff.
Ignatieff is director of Harvard’s Carr Center of Human Rights Policy. A liberal hawk, he endorsed the invasion of Iraq and wrote in the January 5, 2003 New York Times Magazine an essay tellingly entitled “The American Empire (Get Used to It).” On May 2, 2004, in an essay entitled “Lesser Evil,” echoing Dick Cheney, he opined:
To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war. These are evils because each strays from national and international law and because they kill people or deprive them of freedom without due process. They can be justified only because they prevent the greater evil.
As I wrote in my book, “Ignatieff’s ‘greater evil,’ he explains, is a second terrorist attack on the US.  According to his logic, then, the killing of more than 100,000 Iraqis [now at 1.2 million and counting] due to our invasion and occupation, in addition to the ongoing ‘coercive interrogations’ of Iraqis and others, are the ‘lesser evil.’ This must mean that the greater evil was when Saddam tortured and killed Iraqis but when Americans torture and kill Iraqis it’s the lesser evil. I’m glad we got that straight.” (p. 99)
The fact that Iraq had nothing to do whatsoever with 9/11 does not even enter into Michael - Mr. Human Rights – Ignatieff’s calculations.
Obama, we should note, endorses the “war on terror” on the explicit basis that American lives are more important than others’ and that the American Empire must continue to exist and dominate the rest of the world. This worldview led Obama as a US Senator to allow the Military Commissions Act of 2006--“legalizing” torture and stripping habeas corpus rights from “unlawful enemy combatants”--to pass without filibustering it or pointing out its immoral logic. It may well lead him to fulfill some portion or more of Mr. Gerecht’s prediction.
Mark Danner, in his book, Torture and Truth, cites a French Colonel's comment on Algeria to underscore the point that if you accept the "rightness" of occupation and imperial dominance, then you also accept the actions that must per force follow from that:
“Should we remain in Algeria? If you answer “yes,” then you must accept all the necessary consequences.”
—Colonel Philippe Mathieu, The Battle of Algiers (1965)
Out of Sight
FEW post-9/11 issues have produced more anxiety and revulsion than the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of “aggressive interrogation” and the extrajudicial rendition of terrorist suspects to countries that practice torture. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to ban waterboarding and other pain-inflicting soliciting techniques, as well as rendition. He has also promised to close the Guantánamo Bay prison.
More broadly, liberal Democrats in Congress intend to deploy a more moral counterterrorism, where the ends — stopping the slaughter of civilians by Islamic holy warriors — no longer justifies reprehensible means. Winning the hearts and minds of foreigners by remaining true to our nobler virtues is now seen as the way to defeat our enemies while preserving our essential goodness.
Sounds uplifting. Don’t bet on it happening.
Mr. Obama will soon face the same awful choices that confronted George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and he could well be forced to accept a central feature of their anti-terrorist methods: extraordinary rendition. If the choice is between non-deniable aggressive questioning conducted by Americans and deniable torturous interrogations by foreigners acting on behalf of the United States, it is almost certain that as president Mr. Obama will choose the latter.